How to foster an inclusive workplace culture that celebrates everyone

When done correctly, the business benefits are extremely rewarding

Creating a workplace culture and atmosphere where employees from all backgrounds, abilities and cultures feel valued and included is key to developing a high-performing working environment.

Achieving this is easier said than done, sometimes leading to talk with no action. However, there are many ways businesses can make sure they are moving the needle on how comfortable and valued their people feel every day.

A diverse and inclusive workplace culture can improve morale and increase employee job satisfaction, leading to better engagement and productivity. It also creates an environment where people are encouraged to bring their unique perspectives and ideas to the table. This can help drive innovation and problem-solving capabilities across an organisation.

However, building an inclusive workplace culture is a complex and ongoing process that involves addressing several challenges, such as a lack of diversity, unconscious bias among employees and potential resistance to change. There may also be insufficient policies and practices to promote inclusivity and ways to be seen as genuine when implementing inclusivity strategies without virtue signalling. If left unaddressed, these challenges can lead employees to leave the company and damage the business’s reputation.

By implementing effective listening programmes, using insights to understand the immediate actions that need to be taken, and celebrating your workforce effectively, leaders can put the foundations in place to create positive change. But how can they kickstart this?

Igniting inclusion in the workplace through listening

To ensure employees from all backgrounds and abilities feel genuinely included, companies must implement a robust employee listening programme (including engagement surveys, DE&I surveys, and focus groups) to monitor if people feel welcomed, valued and safe.

Key elements of a successful programme include:

  • Leveraging a range of listening tools: Employing listening tools helps ensure that companies can effectively capture employee feedback. These could be general tools such as quarterly pulse surveys or lifecycle tools. They may be surveys focusing on critical moments or topics of the employee experience, including onboarding, exit or DE&I. There are also targeted tools which could centre around deploying focus groups on a key area of interest.
  • Creating an anonymous feedback process: This allows employees to raise concerns or issues without worrying and can help increase an employee’s engagement and trust with their employer. The insights can help inform decision-making and address issues affecting workplace culture and employee satisfaction.
  • Using the data effectively: When examining this data, companies would benefit from cutting the data by key demographics and accounting for intersectionality. This will help businesses understand their workforce better and allocate resources more effectively.
  • From here, organisations need to create an action plan: This would clearly state the goals and objectives of key initiatives and how they align with the company’s mission and values. The action plan should also assign responsibility and accountability for implementing the initiatives to ensure they are delivered and include a process for continuous improvement.

Business leaders have an important role in the success of any employee listening efforts. First, they need to incentivise employees to respond to surveys and encourage them to be part of focus groups. People are not always willing to disclose information about how they’re feeling, and employers have an obligation to communicate how sharing feedback will positively impact the business and make it more inclusive.

Second, business leaders should also be part of the data review process to ensure they have a full picture of what’s happening across the organisation regarding supporting their people. Finally, leaders also play an important part in action plan development and communication of efforts to improve the experience of employees based on listening programme findings.

Don’t delay; deploy today

One challenge businesses face when trying to build an inclusive workplace culture is the time it takes to implement employee listening programmes and other initiatives, such as training on diversity and inclusion, which can delay progress in delivering tangible results.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any quick wins that businesses can take to help speed up the process of driving inclusion. A few things all companies can start implementing now include:

  • Setting clear goals and objectives that leaders are measured against to help drive (and be held accountable) building an inclusive environment.
  • Introducing small but meaningful actions like the NameDrop tool allows people to record and share their names as they should be pronounced.
  • Giving people floating holidays for events like birthdays, work anniversaries, or to honour a religious/cultural holiday.
  • Empowering and investing in employee resource groups can provide a supportive environment for employees to connect, network and engage in professional development.

Celebrating your workforce in the right way

Another vital part of ensuring a truly inclusive workplace culture is recognising national holidays and days of awareness, such as Martin Luther King Jr Day and Blue Monday, which we recently celebrated in January.

But how can companies achieve this? For a start, this can be done by delivering all-organisational events and communication around these days, for example, through emails and Teams/Slack messages. Such communication can discuss what the days mean to people and point employees towards relevant resources they can tap into to widen their knowledge. In addition, employers can develop a website with a DE&I Calendar, for example, and allow employees to make suggestions for honouring awareness days, so they are part of the process.

Overall, companies need to ensure they are intentional and thoughtful with their actions. It’s important to do the work to truly understand why diversity and inclusivity is important across the business to build a company that employees want to work for; and one that ensures it looks at deliverables through many different perspectives to achieve the best results.

Leaders must put steps in place now to ensure they can be confident they have done everything in their power to challenge themselves and the industry on how inclusivity is built into the workplace.

Dr Femi Olu-Lafe, SVP, Culture and Inclusion at Acxiom.

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